Pistons show improvement but stay winless on the road

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

San Antonio — After losing the first two games on their four-game western trip, the Pistons looked to be in a tough spot, having to face the San Antonio Spurs, who only lost one home game all of last season.

The Pistons had been struggling offensively with moving the ball and getting production from their point guards on the trip.

Better ball movement. Check.

Better production from the point guards. Check.

And they still lost.

The Pistons led at halftime but they only managed to shoot 34 percent from the field in the second half, falling to the Spurs, 96-86, on Friday night at AT&T Center. They dropped to 0-5 on the road, while the Spurs ended their three-game home slide.

Andre Drummond had 20 points and 17 rebounds, Tobias Harris added 12 points and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 10 points and seven assists for the Pistons (4-5), who finish the trip Saturday at Denver.

BOX SCORE: Spurs 96, Pistons 86

“We played the game pretty well tonight; we just could not make shots,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “There were some good things tonight; it’s just frustrating that you can’t put the ball in the basket.”

The Pistons finished the first half with a flurry, after Drummond hit a pair of free throws following a flagrant foul and on the ensuing possession, threw down a power dunk on a pick-and-roll play with Caldwell-Pope.

LaMarcus Aldridge (14 points and 12 rebounds) hit a hook to cut the lead to 52-49 at halftime and the Spurs (6-3) pulled ahead in the first few minutes, on back-to-back 3-pointers by Kawhi Leonard (17 points) and Kyle Anderson, for a 60-57 advantage.

Pau Gasol scored 15 of his 21 points in the first half, with a flurry of perimeter jumpers and inside moves. Drummond had trouble staying with Gasol early but his defense improved in the second half.

The Pistons held the Spurs to 41 percent shooting in the second half, but when the offense stalled, it was tough to get over the hump.

“When you play the Spurs, when you make little mistakes like we did, they punish you for every mistake. They make shots,” said backup guard Beno Udrih, who had 12 points. “We played a pretty good game and made a couple steps forward and hopefully we continue to grow and get better.”

Udrih hit a jumper to cut the lead to 73-67 with 1:01 left in the third quarter, but Patty Mills (10 points) closed the quarter with a lay-in. Mills was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to push the lead to 11 early in the fourth period. He followed with a 3-pointer on the next possession and Jonathon Simmons added a free throw for the Spurs’ largest lead, 82-69.

“I told them I’m not upset at anybody,” Van Gundy said. “I thought we played the game well. In terms of both defense and ball movement, putting both ends of the floor together, that’s one of our best games of the year.”

The Pistons threatened in the fourth quarter, with an 8-0 run with three minutes left. Ish Smith (12 points) missed two free throws but followed with back-to-back drives to trim the lead to 89-84. Leonard ended the threat with a 3-pointer with 2:06 left to put the game away.

“We played better defense. We allowed 52 in the first half and 34 in the second half, so the defense is what we have to hang our hats on,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’re working at it to get it better and better.”

Now, the Pistons’ focus turns to salvaging a win out of the road trip and ending the losing skid — a task made more difficult by playing at high altitude in Denver. The Pistons beat the Nuggets last week at The Palace, but playing at the Pepsi Center will be a different challenge.

“We’ve got to get a win. When they make the schedule, they don’t ask what do you like,” Smith said. “We have to go in and play and get a big win against a team we beat last week.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard